Shibamata: A Peaceful Old Town on the Edge of Tokyo
Situated on the banks of the Edogawa, Shibamata is at the exact point where Chiba becomes Tokyo. Although quite small, and rather sleepy, this is a top spot to see a traditional side to Japan that can be difficult to find further into the capital.
Due to its location, the town doesn’t attract as many tourists as other similar spots such as Asakusa, as people either see it as a bit out of the way, or are oblivious to its existence. For local businesses this could be seen as a problem, but for the traveller it’s a blessing. During weekdays, it’s practically empty, and although the weekend sees its fair share of visitors, it isn’t to the extent that you’re getting out of people’s way more than you’re taking in the sites.
Shibamata station can be accessed on the Keisei-Kanamachi line. You can also go to Shin-Shibamata station, on the Hokuso line, but it’s about a fifteen minute walk from there to the action. Either way it’s only about 25 minutes from Ueno, which makes me wonder why it isn’t a more visited spot.
The first port of call is the Taishakuten-Sando; a winding, pedestrianised street leading from the station. On either side there are shops selling souvenirs, and different Japanese snacks. If you’re hankering for some pickles, for example, you will not be disappointed here.
As ever in Japan, the owners of these stores are standing at the front, trying to lure you in with their polite and jovial welcomes. It’s a fun walk not just for the products on offer, but for the atmosphere generated.
There are also some old-style restaurants here, with soba being a particularly popular option. On top of this, the air is filled with the aroma of grilled meat, as some places cook their yakiniku outside, hoping passers-by will follow their nose towards some chicken skewers.
At the end of the street is probably Shibamata’s main attraction, Taishakuten Daikyoji, a beautiful temple in the middle of one of the most peaceful religious sites that I’ve visited in the whole country. You don’t have to enter the temple itself to enjoy the place, as there are serene gardens surrounding the structure, and even a sculpture gallery should you want a quick fix of art.
A nice backdrop to the walk is that the area is famous for a series of classic films, Otoko wa tsurai yoor It’s Tough Being a Man in English. There’s a statue of the main character, Tora-san, at the station, and numerous caricatures on sale. Pretty much everything you walk past was featured in the films.
There is even a Tora-san museum behind the temple grounds for anyone with a keen interest in the series. If you don’t, or have never seen any of them, then there are Japanese gardens nearby which are free to enter, and tranquil; perfect for a wander around.
From there, it’s not a long walk to the river. It’s a popular place to go for a cycle, play a casual bit of sport, or even have a picnic. It is also the site of an old ferry landing for farmers, and if you feel like it, you can get a short ride across the river in one of the traditional boats used for the journey.
The chances are you’ll be pretty tired after all the walking around, and possibly a little dazed after such a peaceful experience. The perfect time, then, to go for a sit-down and a cup of tea or coffee.
And if this is the case, you’re in luck. Near Shin-Shibamata station there is a French cake shop called Biscuit. The shop itself is quite famous around these parts, and can be quite busy. If you can get into the little café at the side, though, you’re in for a treat.
The coffee is good, and the cakes are fantastic. Fruity, creamy, or chocolaty; whatever your taste you’re well catered for. I’ve been in the café when I’ve not even been hungry, and I could honestly eat everything in there if I was given the chance.
It’s the perfect way to end a day in which you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Shibamata is certainly a good place to go for those looking for a slightly quieter glimpse into Japan’s past.